Chapter OneDISCUSSION ONE
Don't All Religions
Teach Basically the
What's the Big Deal Anyway?
The audience was in an uproar. Tempers were flaring.
Shouts came from every corner in the room. The panel
of experts seated in a row onstage tried to answer the
questions being hurled at them like hand grenades. The
talk show host ran from aisle to aisle, shoving the microphone
at open mouths. Some waited for amplification;
most didn't. The show's producer nudged the controller
in the booth and grinned. "Nothin' like talkin' about
religion to bring out the best-and worst-in people!"
It was sweeps week. And it was beautiful.
"What's the big deal anyway?" one woman from
the back row shouted. "At least I believe in something.
That's more than some people I know!"
"Come on, lady." A burly man front and center
snatched the microphone and turned to her. "Do you
really think everyone is right?" He shook his head and
tightened his grip on the microphone as the host struggled
to retrieve it. "How can opposite beliefs both be
true? It's impossible."
An expert tried to speak up.
He didn't succeed.
"Buddha, Allah, Jesus," started a blonde in the
middle section, "they're all the same. What does this
'higher power'"-she made quotation marks with her
fingers-"care what we call him?"
"Or her," shouted an emotionally charged panelist
"Right!" the blonde said. "Or her. What does
'it'"-again with the hand-enhanced quotation
marks-"care what name we use?"
Those who agreed clapped and cheered as the show
went to a commercial; those who didn't pulled the pins
on their verbal grenades and laid in wait for the next
What does God care about the way we designate
him or the way we choose to worship him? And why
get so uptight about it? Doesn't life have enough trouble
without us arguing over whose God is the "right" God
and what hat you should wear to church on Sunday-or
Saturday or the second Wednesday or whatever the
case may be? In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
said, "Now, if you ask me, what's going on is that we're
all up to HERE in it, and probably the most important
thing is that we not yell at one another." She has a
point-it's not God who seems picky, it's people. Why
would God care about such trivial matters as who has
just the right perspective or the precise theological terminology?
There are as many opinions as there are
people. Surely there is more than one path to God.
Or is there?
OPEN FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why do you think there are so many religions
in the world?
2. Do you think all the major religions are
fundamentally the same or fundamentally
different? If you can, give reasons to back up
3. True or false: If a religion inspires people to
live better lives, we shouldn't question it.
Explain your reasoning.
4. What difference, if any, would it make if the
source of an idea or concept of great value to
you was false?
5. True or false: People who claim to have the
only truth about religion are arrogant, and
such conceited attitudes are the cause of great
strife and conflict in the world. Give an
explanation for your answer.
An Indian Legend: Six Blind Men and the Elephant
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind), That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to bawl: "God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!"
The Second, feeling of the tusk, Cried, "Ho! what have we here, So very round and smooth and sharp? To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"
The Third approached the animal, And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, Thus boldly up he spake: "I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a snake!"
The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt about the knee: "What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain," quoth he; "'Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!"
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!"
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope.
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant
Is very like a rope!"
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, They all were in the wrong! -John Godfrey Saxe (1816-87)
6. How does the above legend apply to the issue
of searching for and finding the truth about
God and religion? Do you agree with its
conclusion? Why or why not?
7. How likely does it seem to you that any one
religion would have the final say on what is
true or not? Explain.
8. Does it seem reasonable to expect all religions
to be true in their own ways, in spite of
significant differences? Why or why not?
9. Explain the significant differences behind the
following two motivations for belief.
"Christianity is true because I think it so, and
you should agree with me."
"Christianity is true because Jesus thought it
so, and I agree with him."
Toleration or Validation?
Sometimes, as people attempt to accept widely diverse religious
teachings, truth is sacrificed. R. C. Sproul confronts this
I once had a conversation with a Bahai priest. He told me
that all religions were equally valid. I began to interrogate him
concerning the points of conflict that exist between Islam and
Buddhism, between Confucianism and Judaism, and between
Christianity and Taoism. The man responded by saying that he
didn't know anything about Islam, Judaism, or the rest but that
he did know they were all the same. I wondered aloud how
anyone could assert that all religions were the same when he
had no knowledge of what those religions professed or denied.
How can Buddhism be true when it denies the existence of a
personal God and at the same time Christianity be true when
it affirms the existence of a personal God? Can there be a personal
God and not be a personal God at the same time? .
Can orthodox Judaism be right when it denies life after death
and Christianity be equally right when it affirms life after death? Can classical Islam have a valid ethic that endorses the killing
of infidels while at the same time the Christian ethic of loving
your enemies be equally valid? -R. C. Sproul, Reason to Believe
10. What is the difference between toleration of all
religions and validation of all religions?
11. Do you think that in order for one religion to
be true, all other religions must be completely false? (Do you think the six men in the Indian
legend were each completely wrong?) Explain.
HEART OF THE MATTER
12. Do Christianity's exclusive claims worry, bother, or embarrass you? How has your
reaction changed over time? Explain.
Even among Christians, the claim that Jesus is the only way
creates a problem. For instance, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli
In teaching apologetics (the defense of faith) and philosophy
of religion for many years, we have found that students
worry more and are embarrassed by Christianity's "unAmerican"
exclusivist claims than about any other aspect of
their religion. In an age of toleration and pluralism, the most
popular argument against the Christian religion seems to be
simply that it is only one of many religions. The world is a big
place, "Different strokes for different folks," "live and let live,"
"don't impose your values on others."
-Handbook of Christian Apologetics
13. Is it confusing or frustrating to you that there
are so many different religions from which to
choose? Why or why not?
14. If religions are all different, why do you think
God allows so many of them to exist? Why
doesn't he just narrow down the choices so it's
easier to find him?
CHARTING YOUR JOURNEY
With this session you're beginning a journey. Keep in
mind that you do not need to feel pressured to "say
the right thing" at any point during these discussions.
You're taking the time to do this work because you're
looking for answers and because you're willing to be
honest about your doubts and uncertainties. Others in
your group would also benefit from hearing about
what you'll be learning. So use these sessions profitably-ask
the tough questions, think "outside the
box," and learn from what others in your group have
to say. But stay authentic about where you are in your
To help you identify your progress more clearly,
throughout this guide you will have opportunities to
indicate where you are in your spiritual journey. As
you gain more spiritual insights, you may find yourself
reconsidering your opinions from session to session.
The important thing is for you to be completely truthful
about what you believe-or don't believe-right
15. On a scale from one to ten, place an X near
the spot and phrase that best describes your
position at this point. Share your selection
with the rest of the group and give reasons for
placing your X where you did.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I believe that I'm not sure it's a good idea Other religions may
all religions are to even try to compare have some truth,
basically the religions with each other. but they are all
same. very different.
Scripture for Further Study
Isaiah 53:6 John 14:6
Proverbs 14:12 John 17:17b
Matthew 7:13-27 Acts 4:12
Matthew 10:32-33 Romans 3:23
Matthew 15:1-9 Romans 5:8, 12-21
Matthew 16:21-23 1 Corinthians 1:18-19
Matthew 22:1-14 1 Corinthians 3:10-17
Matthew 23:1-39 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Matthew 25:31-46 2 Corinthians 5:1-10
Mark 9:7 Ephesians 2:8-9
John 1:12, 14 1 John 5:20